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Bradford Council to amend policy on covert surveillance
Bradford Council is to amend its policy on surveillance in light of new Government guidelines.
Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), the authority must now apply for approval from magistrates if it wishes to carry out covert surveillance operations.
Its policy must also clarify where surveillance can be used, said Councillor Lynne Smith, chairman of the Corporate Governance and Audit Committee. She said the changes made to Council policy would only be minor because the authority follows surveillance rules strictly.
Coun Smith said: “We are amending our policy to reflect the Government guidelines that have been issued, although the changes we are making are very, very minor. For us, in practice, the changes will not make any difference. Our practice is very much in line with the rules anyway. The only change for us is the getting permission from magistrates.
“In terms of the steps before that, we already have very tight restrictions on surveillance.”
The committee is meeting today to discuss the Government changes to RIPA. A report to the committee recommends that “the Council’s policy relating to RIPA be amended to note the serious offence test applies to only directed surveillance from November 1 2012”.
The serious offence test means that directed surveillance can only be carried out in connection with investigations into offences that would lead to six months or more in prison. The two exceptions to that rule are the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to children.
Coun Smith said: “The Government has brought in the new guidelines because there has been controversy where councils have used surveillance in the wrong way, such as catching people who let their dogs foul.
“It needs to be amended because we need to do so to comply with the guidelines, but we don’t need to change much.” A report last August told of a need to overhaul the RIPA legislation, highlighting councils which used the powers to catch dog owners whose pets fouled the streets and to investigate breaches of the smoking ban.
Campaign group Big Brother Watch said local councils had carried out more than 9,000 surveillance operations over a three-year period.
Coun Smith said it was the opposite for Bradford Council.
She said: “We have not used any covert surveillance for more than three years. We always believe that covert surveillance needs to be used only as a last resort and in serious instances.”
The new guidelines were introduced in November, but Coun Smith said: “There is usually a period of grace for councils to catch up.”